Laughter better than medicine for diabetes has gotten a lot of press recently – that is if you’re a science nerd like me and subscribe to medical newsletters!
Most often the accompanying articles talk about positive psychology and mood enhancing effects that make lifestyle change easier — pre-diabetes and type 2 ARE for the most part the outcome of a “Western lifestyle,” making their rebuttal a matter of developing new, healthy habits.
However a handful of scientists devote their hard-won grant money to developing hard-core bench laboratory experiments that examine blood content and gene assays to look for PHYSICAL evidence of laughter’s healing effects.
They’ve discovered that laughter DOES HAVE drug-like impact on the pathology of diabetes. Yes — in some instances laughter can be better than medicine for diabetes.
In people with diabetes, laughter is proven to:
- Lower blood sugar
- Improve memory
- Improve learning ability
- Lower circulating stress hormones
- Lower cholesterol
- Decrease inflammation
- Build immune cells
Not to mention just makes folks feel a whole heck of a lot better!
Laughter to lower blood sugar!
Japanese researchers recruited patients with type 2 diabetes (not taking insulin) to participate in a two day experiment.
On day one, all the recruits were fed an identical 500 calorie meal containing 79.9 g carbohydrate, 21.0 g protein, 7.8 g fat, and 1.0 g fiber. Sheesh! 80 grams of carbs!
After the meal, they watched a 40 minute monotonous lecture and the researchers measured their blood glucose from the fingertip.
On the second day, after eating the same meal, participants attended a Manzai performance. Manzai is a traditional style of Japanese stand-up comedy starring a straight man and a funny man trading jokes a breakneck speed. After the show, fingertip blood sugar was taken again.
Results? Laughter significantly lowered ALL the participants blood glucose(1) .
Laughter yoga works too!
Laughter yoga isn’t really yoga at all (at least not your traditional “Gumby” yoga). Instead, it’s a set of breathing and motion exercises designed to stimulate the muscles activated when people have a good laugh! It’s fascinating because the body can’t tell the difference between a real laugh and a fake laugh — although the body CAN tell the difference between demeaning humor and celebratory humor. But that’s another story for another blog post — I’ll write it soon!
In this study, 211 participants with type 2 diabetes (both insulin and non-insulin takers) were randomized into a a laughter yoga group and a control group that didn’t participate in the exercises. All the participants ate the same lunch and then watched a 90-minute lecture – snore! — remember how you used to always fall asleep in class after lunch?!
BUT the laughter group got to participate in a 30-minute laughter yoga class after the lecture.
Exactly 120 minutes after the meal, everyone had fingertip blood glucose testing. Not surprisingly, the laughter group had significantly lower sugar than did the control(2).
Laughter Yoga Exercise!
my favorite is the “Visa bill exercise!”
Laugh to improve memory & diminish stress hormones!
Loma Linda University under the guidance of Dr. Lee Berk is doing amazing research on the impact of laughter on health. In an interview with the “LA Times,” Lee explained that he owes it all to Norman Cousins.
Norman Cousins was the political journalist who published an article in the New England Medical Journal recounting how laughter helped him cure himself of an “incurable” disease. I tell his story as the father of laughter medicine here and below are Dr. Berk’s comments from the interview:
The person that’s responsible for the current state of mind-body medicine is Norman Cousins. Norman Cousins came down to Loma Linda and sat across the table from me with his wife and said, I want to show that laughter can affect the immune system and your hormones. He says, How much money would it take? I said, I don’t know what to tell you. How about $80,000? The next words out of his mouth were, Who do I write the check to? That’s how we got started.
In one study, Dr. Berk recruited groups of elderly people with and without diabetes and showed them a 20-minute funny video. Next they completed a memory assessment that measured learning, recall and sight recognition. Their results were compared to a control group who also took the memory assessment but didn’t watch the video(4).
The researchers measured blood levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in all the participants both before and after they took the memory assessment.
Results? There was a significant decrease in cortisol concentrations among both groups who watched the video. Video-watchers also showed greater improvement in all areas of the memory assessment when compared to controls, with the diabetic group seeing the most dramatic benefit in cortisol level changes and the healthy elderly seeing the most significant changes in memory test scores.
How laughter improves memory and learning.
According to Dr. Berk – it’s simple: Because laughter reduces circulating levels of stress hormones — it’s easier to remember and learn.
When the body is under stress, resources are pulled away from cognitive processes like thinking and remembering and are poured into muscles for fight or flight preparedness. That’s why we hear about such “miracles” like moms pulling cars off of trapped infants. Under that type of stress — the body needs to fight rather than think so it focuses 100% attention on the task at hand.
Laughter to lower cholesterol, stress & inflammation.
In this experiment, Dr. Berk took a group of diabetes patients at high risk of heart attack and divided them into two groups. High risk was defined as hypertension (high blood pressure) and hyperlipidemia (fatty blood). Both groups took standard medications for diabetes (glipizide, TZD, metformin), hypertension (ACE inhibitor or ARB) and hyperlipidemia (statins).
The difference between the two groups is that one was told to watch 30 minutes of something funny everyday. Something that would be sure to get them laughing — their personal preferences.
Dr. Berk and his team followed the participants for 12 months and took regular readings of circulating stress hormones (epinephrine and norepinephrine) , HDL cholesterol, inflammatory cytokines that speed up hardening of the arteries, and C-reactive protein markers for inflammation and heart disease.
Results? The laughter group had lower stress hormones by the second month. They had increased HDL (good) cholesterol and had lower level of inflammatory markers and inflammatory cytokines! (A cytokine is a protein that cells release to tell other cells to do things: like kill immune cells when they’re inflammatory or build immune cells when they’re anti-inflammatory.)
By the end of the year, the laughter group had risen HDL (good) cholesterol by 26 percent compared to three percent in the control group. Destructive C-reactive proteins decreased 66 percent in the laughter group vs. 26 percent in the control group(5).
Fantastic! If you have diabetes — I sure hope you take this fun activity to heart (pun intended) and make 30 minutes of laughter a part of your daily routine!
Laughter builds immune cells in people with diabetes!
Our Japanese friends who conducted the studies determining that laughter lowers blood glucose after a meal recruited another group of type 2 diabetes patients to investigate laughter’s effects on immune cells.
Specifically, they were interested in very special cells name Natural Killer cells. These are incredible heroes in our body’s defense system because they’re capable of traveling ANYWHERE in the body and to destroy ANY KIND of pathogen whether it be an infection or a cancer cell. They’re called Natural Killers (NKs) because every other genre of immune cells need to jump through dozens of hoops before they actually do their work of killing invaders. That time lapse can make a huge difference in our safety, and all kinds of things can get in the way of the natural progression of hoop-jumping. So we LOVE our NKs!
In this experiment, the participants watched a funny video with hospital staff on day one, and on day two they attended a diabetes education program. Blood samples were collected before and after each day’s activities.
Results? On the day participants laughed with hospital staff, their bodies up-regulated 39 genes that build NK cells!
Are you laughing yet?
Just ANTICIPATING a laugh reduces stress hormones!
Finally, if you need any more proof that laughter is like medicine for your diabetes — researchers have proven that just thinking about laughing reduces circulating stress hormones!
Our much loved Dr. Lee Berk headed up this study. His team recruited healthy fasting male volunteers and drew blood from them to analyze levels of cortisol and catecholamines. The latter are a category of stress hormones that include epinephrine (adrenaline).
The volunteers were divided into a control and a group that was anticipating attending a humorous event (bummer that the authors don’t tell us what kind of humorous event it was).
Blood was drawn from both groups prior to the event (anticipation), four times during the event and three times afterward.
Results? You guessed it! Anticipating a humorous event lowers circulating levels of stress hormones!
Article Sources and References:
(1) Hayashi, Keiko, Takashi Hayashi, and Shizuko Iwanaga. “Laughter Lowered the Increase in Postprandial Blood Glucose.” Diabetes Care. American Diabetes Association, 01 May 2003. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/26/5/1651.long
(2) Hayashi T, Murakami K. “The effects of laughter on post-prandial glucose levels and gene expression in type 2 diabetic patients.” Life Science. Jul 31;85(5-6):185-7 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19450597
(4) Bains, Gurinder S., Lee Berk, and Noha Daher. “Effectiveness of Humor on Short Term Memory Function in Age Matched Elderly and Diabetic Subjects vs. Control Group.”FASEB Journal 684.4th ser. 28.1 (2014): n. pag. Web. http://www.fasebj.org/content/28/1_Supplement/684.4.short
(5) American Physiological Society. “Laughter Remains Good Medicine.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 April 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090417084115.htm>
(6) Hayashi, Takashi, Satoru Tsujii, and Tadao Iburi. “Laughter Up-regulates the Genes Related to NK Cell Activity in Diabetes.” Biomedical Research 28.6 (2007): 281-85. Web. https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/biomedres/28/6/28_6_281/_article/-char/ja/
(7) American Physiological Society. “Anticipating A Laugh Reduces Our Stress Hormones, Study Shows.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 April 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080407114617.htm>.